‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied in several French cities for a tenth consecutive weekend on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 27 January 2019

‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

  • The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the president
  • In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend

PARIS: Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters returned to the streets of France Saturday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, clashing with police in several cities in a challenge to his bid to quell the movement.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back protesters at Place de la Bastille in Paris, one of the regular protest areas, as some demonstrators threw stones from a building site.
The local prefecture reported 223 arrests in Paris, while the interior ministry estimated numbers for the 11th week of protests were at 69,000 across France, compared with 84,000 last Saturday.
The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the former investment banker who critics say is out of touch with the economic struggles of ordinary French people.
In Paris and other cities, the yellow vest movement had called for the protests to continue into the night.
But police quickly dispersed several hundred protesters in the capital’s symbolic Republique square, using stun grenades as well as tear gas and water cannon to clear the area, AFP journalists said.
Clashes erupted too in Nantes in western France and in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police officer was injured by “a pyrotechnic device,” said a statement from the local prefecture.
In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Twitter criticized “rioters disguised as yellow vest protesters” after Saturday’s clashes.
The weekend’s protests against Macron’s tax and social policies came as divisions appeared among the yellow vests — named after the high-visibility vests they wear — as to where to take the movement.
In a new political development, a 31-year-old nurse named Ingrid Levavasseur said this week she would lead a yellow vest list of candidates for the European elections in May.
An initial survey in the wake of the announcement suggested they would garner a respectable 13 percent of the vote.
But not every protester appeared to welcome this development.
“There is a hard core that is ready to keep fighting,” said 42-year-old Gilbert Claro from the Paris suburbs. But the movement “is not meant to be political,” he added.
“We have to keep the pressure on in the streets,” to get their demands accepted, said Virginie, an activist in her 40s who said she had been involved in the protests from the beginning.
She and many other protesters want a citizen-sponsored referendum so ordinary people can have more of a say in government policy.
This idea has been consistently rejected by the government, although Macron made some concessions last December in a bid to end the protests.
Recent opinion polls suggest that he has regained some of the ground lost during the crisis, as he has presented his case in a series of town hall events around the country.
The “great national debate” he initiated in response to the protests has nevertheless been dismissed as a public relations operation by many yellow vest protesters.
The debate is a “masquerade,” said Mathieu Styrna, a 36-year-old carpenter from northern France in Paris for the protests. His impression, he said, was that the participants had been selected.
Outside Paris, several thousand protesters were marching in Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest — two of the cities where support for the movement has been consistently strong.
In Bordeaux, police broke up small groups of protesters tossing fireworks and bottles as night fell.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, members of the CGT union joined the protests and about a thousand protesters turned out in the eastern city of Lyon.
For the first time on Saturday, riot police used controversial defense ball launchers (LBDs) that shoot 40-millimeter (1.6-inch) rubber and foam rounds were equipped with cameras.
A French court on Friday refused a bid brought by France’s League for Human Rights (LDH) and the CGT to ban the weapons, blamed for serious injuries suffered by some demonstrators.
The police authority in Paris announced the introduction of cameras in a move for greater transparency.
On Sunday, supporters of the government will stage their first “red scarf” protest to represent what they say is “the silent majority” defending “democracy and its institutions” and denouncing the violence of the yellow vests protests.
Two-thirds of people questioned in a IFOP-Journal du Dimanche survey published Sunday said they thought the demonstrations had not succeeded in changing how Macron was governing France.


Trump: I am Israel’s best pal in the White House

Updated 8 min 34 sec ago

Trump: I am Israel’s best pal in the White House

  • Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump says ‘I kept my promises’
  • The president also claimed there are some Jewish people in America who don’t love Israel enough

HOLLYWOOD, Florida: President Donald Trump said Saturday that Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than him because, unlike his predecessors, “I kept my promises.”
Trump energized an audience that numbered in the hundreds at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Florida by recounting his record on issues of importance to Jews, including an extensive riff on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and relocate the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Trump said his predecessors only paid lip service to the issue.
“They never had any intention of doing it, in my opinion,” Trump said. “But unlike other presidents, I kept my promises.”
Trump also highlighted his decision to reverse more than a half-century of US policy in the Middle East by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war but its sovereignty over the territory had not been recognized by the international community.
In his speech, the president also claimed there are some Jewish people in America who don’t love Israel enough.
“We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more, I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more,” Trump said, to some applause. “Because you have Jewish people that are great people — they don’t love Israel enough.”
Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, denounced Trump’s remarks as anti-Semitic.
“Trump’s insistence on using anti-Semitic tropes when addressing Jewish audiences is dangerous and should concern every member of the Jewish community — even Jewish Republicans,” Keyak said.
Trump has been accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes before, including in August, when he said American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” A number of Jewish groups noted at the time that accusations of disloyalty have long been made against Jews.
The Israeli American Council is financially backed by one of Trump’s top supporters, the husband-and-wife duo of Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate.
Both Adelsons appeared on stage to introduce Trump, with Miriam Adelson asserting that Trump “has already gone down in the annals of Jewish history, and that is before he’s even completed his first term in office.”
The Adelsons donated $30 million to Trump’s campaign in the final months of the 2016 race. They followed up by donating $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 congressional elections.
Trump’s entourage at the event included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, along with Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Michael Waltz, whom he described as “two warriors” defending him against “oppression” in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump criticized Israel’s sworn enemy, Iran, saying he withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal with other world powers because Tehran must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon
But Trump voiced support for Iranian citizens who have been protesting a decision by their government to withdraw fuel subsidies, which sent prices skyrocketing.
Trump said he believes thousands of Iranians have been killed in the protests and that thousands more have been arrested.
“America will always stand with the Iranian people in their righteous struggle for freedom,” he said.